Der. med. univ. Michael Katzensteiner
Fibres for the intestines
Modern eating habits cause the majority of the population to have a lack of important fibres. This not only leads to digestive problems such as constipation but also to a reduction in vital bifidobacteria and lactobacilli in the intestines. Bacteria, whose livelihood depends on special fibres.
Be honest now – how good is your digestion really? Do you regularly use the “oval office” or do you belong to the 20-25% of the population that struggles to go to the toilet and suffers from constipation? Our lifestyle is often associated with sluggish bowels: Besides stress and a lack of exercise, an insufficient intake of liquids and fibre-rich food are responsible for the development of (chronic) constipation.
There are two layers of muscle (smooth and skeletal muscle) in the intestinal wall and their contractions transport food through our body. However, every muscle needs a stimulus to complete its work. Fibres absorb water and swell, ultimately increasing the stool volume. As a result, the intestines are nicely filled, and the surrounding muscles are encouraged to transport the contents onwards.
An insufficient intake of liquids (Do you really drink 1,5-2 litres of water a day?) and a diet with lots of ready-made products, industrially processed foods and a lack of fresh fruit and veggies generates a lack of fibres in the majority of the population. A fact proven by the “National Consumption Survey II”: Men (avg. 25g/day), as well as women (avg. 23g/day), eat less than the recommended minimum of 30g fibres per day. As a result, the stool volume is significantly reduced, the stool itself is more solid because of the lack of liquids and fibres, and the contents get stuck in the digestive tract. The final result: constipation.
Fibres: a foundation of life
A lack of fibres not only negatively impacts the volume and consistency of our stool, but also our vital intestinal flora: Fibres are the staple diet of these microorganisms. If the intestinal bacteria don’t receive enough fibres to survive, they either help themselves to the protective mucosa of the intestines – or die. The reduced number and diversity of bacteria in the intestines results in fewer nutrients being absorbed from our food. In the long run, this reduced quality and nutrient variety can cause problems for our entire organism. Furthermore, the production of important short-chain fatty acids is impaired (e.g. butyrate, which acts as a source of energy for the intestinal mucosa cells).
Most intestinal bacteria that are “lost”, aren’t easily recovered. Anaerobic bacteria can’t survive in the presence of oxygen and therefore can’t be cultured and taken in the form of probiotics. However, it is possible to create ideal living conditions for these important intestinal bacteria by offering enough food in the form of fibres – with the help of so-called prebiotics.
Intestines without drive
Constipation is a medical term that refers to impaired defecation of fewer than three times a week.
A lack of liquids and fibres not only affects stool frequency but is also clearly visible: You can either see single, firm pellets or sausage-like, lumpy stool in the toilet.
Fibres are the indigestible parts of plant-based foods and reach the colon almost completely unchanged. Here, they act as a food source for important intestinal bacteria, and by absorbing enough liquids, increase the stool volume and soften its consistency. Whole-grain products, seeds, nuts, legumes, fruits and veggies are all foods with high amounts of fibre. The recommended daily intake should be no less than 30g of fibres.